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Higher Education using Website to Build Strong Bonds

August 16, 2018

By Jim Panagas

Universities have become a mainstay of American society. For decades, they have been growing in size and scope. They are attracting an increasing quantity of students, faculty, investment – and attention. Today, they are in a unique position. They are having to work hard to project just the right image, and for that they need to have the right technologies in place – and that includes a Content Management Solution or CMS.
 
A case in point is the University of Washington, one of the fastest growing campuses in the nation. The school’s Bothell campus, located just north of Seattle, recently completed a major upgrade of its website, as well as the CMS platform that runs it.
 
“When I arrived here seven years ago,” explained Laura Mansfield, Director of Digital Communications, “we had about 1500 students, and today we have over 6000. We’ve added some 40 new degrees. Every year, we have thousands of visitors to our campus and millions of visitors to our website. So, we’ve undergone some tremendous growth.”
 
With growth comes growing pains, and the UW Bothell campus was no exception. Although they had a CMS in place to maintain their website, it hadn’t been updated in a number of years. And that was causing them some angst.
 
Emergence of CMS technology at UW Bothell Campus
“Bringing CMS to our campus in the first place was key,” noted Russell Burns, Senior Web Developer. It brought with it a number of capabilities including:

Providing 200+ contributors with editing capabilities while still maintaining the overall look and feel by using templates

Retiring a number of “mini applications” and legacy customizations which had made certain abilities possible before the introduction of a CMS

Taking full advantage of more out-of-the-box CMS capabilities and thereby requiring a lot less custom work

Delivering a granular permission structure which allowed overall system control from a central location while at the same time supporting contributors in a very decentralized environment

 
“A granular permission structure was very hard to find among the hundreds of CMS systems that we looked at,” pointed out Burns. “It turned out to be a defining difference for us.”
 
He continued, “Organizations want to have a large amount of freedom to get their own message out. In order to give them that yet maintain a unified structure, we had to effectively give them a sandbox. We retained the ability to control the things that we need to control, yet at the same time gave them the capability to get their messages out the way that they wanted to.”
 
Another thing that made a large impact as CMS became more widely used at the Bothell campus were templates. “From the very beginning, from the first CMS implementation,” observed Jeane Marty, Senior Front-end Software Engineer. “We have kept the templating system simplified, so it’s easy for a school or unit to fall in line very easily.  By locking down the process, we allow them to stay focused on their content.”
 
Not Staying Current is No Longer an Option
“We have a small team. We’re short staffed,” noted Mansfield. “We found that we were missing important improvements that the CMS vendor was rolling out because we weren’t updating regularly.”
 
Things had to change, because as Mansfield noted, “The website is the single most important communications tool that we have. It plays a role in almost everything that we do, from attracting faculty, students, and parents to crisis communications. It serves every purpose for the university.”
 
Different Constituencies have Different Information Needs
“We have a lot of information that we need to put out there,” observed Mansfield. “Obviously, students need information about their classes, about the professors who will be teaching them, about events taking place on campus, and about tuition. Our faculty have different needs. They want to connect with one another so that they can collaborate on research. They want to show the university in the best light possible so that they can compete for grants. And we know that the third most important constituency we have to worry about are students looking for jobs. We need to make a strong statement that we are connecting students with potential employers.”
 
Mobile Strategy a part of the Solution
“We’re designing a website that can be displayed on any device,” observed Mansfield, “Some of the more complex transactions, most universities don’t offer them yet.  Like scheduling classes online – that’s really hard to do on a phone. That being said, data tells us that today most people come to the website from a desktop computer. But clearly, to be competitive, we have to have a mobile site.”
 
“Students want to accomplish virtually everything from a mobile device,” confirmed Sue Mokhtarnejad, Director of Enterprise Strategies. “Over the next few years, I think you’ll see the trend in website visitors moving noticeably towards mobile.”
 
The Website is the Focal Point...
“The website is our most important marketing tool and it’s our most important communications tool. It’s where current students, prospective students, their parents, our donors, our supporters – it’s where our community finds us.” That impression is backed up by the numbers. “The traffic on the site,” reported Marty, “is around 5000 unique page views per day. In addition, there are 500+ PDFs plus YouTube videos, which are embedded into the site.”
 
...But the Cloud Certainly Lends a Helping Hand
As part of its upgrade effort, UW Bothell has not only upgraded its CMS and made extensive improvements to the website, but also moved the site to the cloud. “I can’t speak for industry, but I think that the cloud is where most universities are going,” reported Mansfield. “It’s cheaper and it relieves a lot of the IT burden – we don’t have to have as many people maintaining servers and that kind of thing. The CMS is also much faster because it’s in the cloud now. Editing was once a painful process, and now it’s much faster.”
 
“We’re also in a place where we lose power a lot,” she continued. “And we used to have to scramble. But now that it’s in the cloud, we have a great deal of redundancy in place. So, I can sleep better at night.”
 
The Right People and the Right Technology Make It all Work
Marketing and IT teams sometimes find themselves working at odds. But that’s not the case at the University of Washington’s Bothell campus.
 
“We talk to our IT colleagues constantly through Slack or instant messaging,” explained Mansfield. Plus, we’ll walk over every week and have a meeting.”
 
Sue Mokhtarnejad, UW Bothell Director of Enterprise Strategies, also talked about the importance of Marketing and IT working together. But as a technologist, it’s the software that has her captivated at the moment. “I’m a Microsoft person, so I hang around with a lot of IT people like myself. And I have to tell you that there are not that many .Net based CMS systems out there that I have seen work this well.”
 
Future Looks Bright for UW Bothell
So how does the future look for this Washington-based university? Bright and getting brighter.
 
“In terms of our long-term strategy,” Mansfield concluded, “now that we have gotten rid of most of our legacy code and upgraded to the most current version of our CMS, future upgrades will be easier.”
 
Mokhtarnejad, her IT counterpart, couldn’t agree more. “I feel that we have selected a platform that is future-proof, that offers a lot of scalability, and that allows us to be agile to the business need.”
 
Advice for other Universities
When asked if they had any words of advice or wisdom for other colleges and universities who find themselves in a similar situation, here’s what the UW Bothell team had to say.

 
Watch the full 9-minute interview with the UW Bothell’s Marketing and IT staff at Youtube:
“Schools and universities have budgetary issues, so you want to get the most that you can for the money,” advised Mokhtarnejad. “My advice would be to look for a CMS product that is scalable, easy to maintain, based on the latest best practices, and look for a vendor that offers great technical support.”
Added Mansfield, “We’re very under-resourced, as most of your readers will be. So, I would say if there’s an outstanding upgrade that needs to be done, go ahead and do it. It’s not going to get any easier. Again, we’ve been in this compelling situation where we’ve been growing so quickly that we haven’t upgraded our infrastructure as quickly as we needed to. So, I would say, don’t wait – do it.”

 

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RIP Net Neutrality. Now What?

July 26, 2018

By Duncan Hendy

After years of working out how being online affects the conversations businesses have with consumers, we’re finally in full, omnichannel, respectful, personalized, and double-consented dialogue with them, and its proving to be a win-win for all concerned. The death of net neutrality could mean all this comes to a grinding halt!

To clarify, net neutrality is the concept that all Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all data traffic equally and cannot accept payment from companies for preferential content delivery, nor charge users a subscription to access certain websites (in the way Cable TV does for channels).

The end of these regulations means that Internet providers are no longer prohibited from engaging in discriminatory or preferential practices, degrading or filtering out content, or charging users for access to content, however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will require them to be transparent about how they handle web traffic.

Comcast Corp, Verizon Communications Inc., and AT&T Inc. all pledged not to block or discriminate against legal content after the expiration. But even before the regulations were repealed, Comcast secretly slowed ("throttled") uploads from BitTorrent and didn’t stop until ordered to do so by the FCC. AT&T was also caught limiting access to FaceTime to those users who paid for their new data plan. And Verizon Wireless was accused of throttling videos on Netflix and YouTube. So, I’d love to say “don’t worry, we’re in good hands”… but that would be foolish.

What Does the Non-neutral Online World Look Like?

Until now, the Internet has been lovingly considered a basic public utility—where paying customers have access to whatever content is available online and where all content is delivered with equal priority. And it’s been a world of free-flowing competition, which has created a high demand for smart content strategies, detailed SEO, engaging social-media campaigning, and targeted pay-per-click services. Using these practices, a small start-up could take on (and actually stand a chance against) a mammoth competitor. It’s what paved the way for companies like Skype to dominate online telecoms ahead of AT&T and for Netflix to completely redefine the media landscape despite Verizon’s best efforts.

A world without net neutrality is one where there is nothing to stop ISPs from charging companies for website services or slowing down (or even blocking) content that might be considered competition, or in favour of the highest bidder. This gives big cable companies full control over what we (and our users) can see and access online.

Not only does this raise serious concerns around online censorship… but it means you could start finding it a lot harder to reach your audience.

What Does It Mean for Content Marketers?

After years of working out how being online affects the conversations businesses have with consumers, we’re finally in full, omnichannel, respectful, personalized, and double-consented dialogue with them, and its proving to be a win-win for all concerned. The death of net neutrality could mean all this comes to a grinding halt!

A study by the Aberdeen Group found that online shoppers expect web pages to download content instantly. Even a one-second delay could lead to "11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions". That’s huge.

And with the Internet soon to gain a “fast lane”, smaller firms sitting in the default slow lane have little chance of even getting their ads and content seen. Your perfectly tuned SEO could find itself obsolete as visibility goes to the highest bidder and your advertising will take a considerable hit, with fewer consumers to target and more costs associated with targeting them.

Marketing messages could find themselves pushed into a slow-moving vacuum and silently suffocated (unless you pay your ISP for the privilege of visibility), while the customer you are trying to reach is also charged to even access them!

The incentive to enter the marketplace could all but fizzle out as smaller companies’ customers may have to actively battle through major publishers to find them, and we could see online start-ups closing their virtual doors before they’re fully open. It will undoubtedly dramatically reduce online diversity, inclusivity, and scale.

So Now What?

With waning hopes of congress writing laws protecting an open Internet, numerous states have signed executive orders to preserve net neutrality, and others are making their way through the legislative process to keep the rules in place. But the FCC basically threatened legal action against states that try to get around the repeal. Tech companies like Vimeo and Kickstarter have launched lawsuits against the FCC claiming the decision violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is "arbitrary and capricious".

If The Congressional Review Act (a way to overrule the agency) released by the Senate in May went through, it would still need to be signed by President Donald Trump. So holding your breath (even if it was the biggest breath anybody had ever taken ever in the word ever)… wouldn’t be a smart strategy.

Currently, the UK’s net neutrality laws are in place. But it, too, could have a bumpy road ahead as Brexit will see the UK Government converting the EU Regulation on Open Internet Access into British law, at which time it could be upheld, amended, or even scrapped.

By its very nature, non-neutrality can destroy the competition we have all built our online businesses around and could portent a new online space that is exclusively dominated by top websites, costly, restrictive, and inaccessible.

And you thought GDPR was bad!

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Google Given $5.1 Billion Fine by the EU in Android Antitrust Case | Bart Omlo comments

July 24, 2018

Alphabet Inc.’s Google was hit with a $5.1 billion fine from the European Union over what the EU calls an abuse of the Android operating system.
 
The decision mark’s the EU’s biggest antitrust fine to date.  The bloc’s antitrust regulator found Wednesday that Google had abused the dominance of its Android operating system to promote and entrench the company’s popular search engine.
 
The fine – Europe’s largest so far related to antitrust issues – is equivalent to around 40 percent of Google’s 2017 net profit of $12.62 billion.
 
“Google’s strategy for its comparison-shopping service wasn’t just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU's competition commissioner, said in the decision. “It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services.”
 
The EU also ordered Google to change the terms of certain agreements with mobile phone producers and telecommunications operators.
 
Namely, they ordered Google to no longer require mobile phone producers to make Google their default search engine, and to stop making them pre-install the Chrome browser if they want to pre-install Google’s Play store, which is the prevailing way to download Android apps. Google’s Android software currently runs on more than 80% of all smartphones.
 
Bart Omlo, VP Sales EMEA & Latin America at Kentico Software, commented on how this could affect the current landscape: “With the European Union taking more responsibility to protect citizens’ data, it will be more difficult for companies to get the most value out of information gathered and provide innovative, well-targeted messages to individuals. Real market disruptors are becoming more careful of their approach and are tending to avoid the EU as their ‘playing ground’ to test new ideas,” he said.
 
He went on to describe how this could change the European market: “The unanticipated consequence is that this could cause start-ups and scale-ups to move elsewhere, which could compromise the competitiveness of the European market. The challenge for EU companies over the next few years will be to strike the right balance between success (monopoly), privacy (GDPR), and the intelligent use of available data. I’m confident that this balance will soon be restored, as it is in everybody’s benefit.”

 
In a blog post on the ruling, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that Android has increased competition, not diminished it.
 
Google's main rebuttal is that Android users can easily remove the pre-installed apps and download third-party alternatives. Pichai also implied that forcing Google to stop application bundling could prevent it from offering the Android software for free. "So far, the Android business model has meant that we haven't had to charge phone makers for our technology, or depend on a tightly controlled distribution model," Pichai wrote.
 
Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, weighed in on the situation.
 
“I think the biggest challenge I see with this is not the dominance of the OS, yet we’ve seen an increased push of regulatory control in the UE, which I think is good in some ways. The biggest challenge has been some of the backlash that has made it more challenging for brands to drive customer, channel and brand loyalty. If you look at GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the restrictions that are being placed on some brands’ access and use of data, it is impacting their choice of potential outside vendors or suppliers who have that,” Johnson went on to say. “We need to look at the agency conflict that we learned about in business school. Monopolies and monopsonies now are looked at differently. Many do not feel Google has monopolistic powers, yet they have monopsony powers, their ability to control these data points, especially in an environment where others are being overly cautious (Europe and GDPR), makes this all the more interesting.”
 
Johnson continues to say, “Google has the ability to control all of this data, and the more control they have over it, they can effectively push the price of that data, especially for others, down. If they have more data (making their data more valuable) and push the value of data down for others (as they become the market maker), there needs to be a perspective on how this is regulated and controlled. Brands need data to make actionable insights about their customers, and this is the bigger concern for me.”
 
If Google doesn't change the conduct, as required by the EU, within 90 days, the company could face charges of up to 5 percent of the average daily worldwide revenue of Alphabet, Google's parent company, despite its appeal.

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